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Stars shine bright for South

South Medford scored its 17th straight boys basketball victory over North Medford on Tuesday, but not without enduring some tense moments late in the Southwest Conference opener for both teams.

Michael Harthun poured in 28 points and E.J. Singler added 26 as the second-ranked Panthers held off the Black Tornado for a 73-67 triumph in what turned into the closest matchup between the cross-town rivals in eight years.

South Medford (9-2, 1-0 SWC) led by 18 points with four minutes to play but let up a little and opened the door for North Medford to pull within six points with 36 seconds to play.

Neither team scored from that point, but the drama of a potential upset was there for the Black Tornado for the first time since it last beat the Panthers on Feb. 1, 2000. In the other meeting that season, South won by three points — making Tuesday's effort only the fourth decided by single digits in the past 22 contests (South won by nine in February of 2004).

"We knew they'd come out and give us their best shot and we had to counteract that with our best shot," said Harthun, who also had eight assists and two rebounds. "Tonight our shot was a little better than theirs for the first three quarters. We've just got to add that fourth quarter."

Danny Berger scored nine of his team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter surge by North Medford (7-4, 0-1 SWC).

"At the end we were playing real aggressive, but I guess it was just too little, too late," said Berger, who also had three rebounds and two blocked shots.

The Panthers helped spur along the Tornado uprising by uncharacteristically missing layins and free throws down the stretch. South managed to score on only one of its final 10 possessions.

"I thought for about 27 minutes we played very well, and then we just did a very poor job of finishing the game," said South Medford coach Dennis Murphy. "We missed a lot of shots around the basket and rushed some shots, and then we just quit defending. You just can't have that kind of a lull."

The finish for South Medford was an exact opposite of how the Panthers opened the game. North went up 7-2 by scoring on its opening three possessions and held an 8-5 lead until South finally kicked in the jets and used a 20-4 run to provide a double-digit cushion.

"Obviously we wanted to play better, especially after our last two games at Les Schwab," said Singler in reference to losses against No. 1 Oregon City and No. 3 Grant. "I felt like we just came out and played horribly up there, so we wanted to prove something tonight. It's obviously against our rivals so that's just going to amp it up more."

Singler and Harthun put on a show for the entire game, but never more than in the first quarter. Harthun had six points and four assists in the frame, while Singler had 12 points in a frenzied opening eight minutes.

"E.J. came to play tonight, for sure, and Michael did, too," said North Medford coach Scott Plankenhorn. "Those were the two guys we talked about that are big-time players and we really couldn't control them the way we wanted to or were trying to."

Singler continued his dominance in the second quarter and wound up totaling 20 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and one assists by intermission. He also took two of his three defensive charges in the first half.

"I never have to question E.J. because I know he's going to bring it every single night he comes out on the court," Harthun said of the 6-foot-6 junior. "That's definitely huge for the team chemistry to have that. There's never going to be a play where he doesn't play hard."

Singler finished with an amazing 26 points, 14 rebounds, six blocked shots and three steals in an all-around outing reminiscent of when older brother Kyle suited up for the Panthers.

He was 12-for-14 from the field to complement Harthun's 12-for-16 effort, and might have put up bigger numbers had he not been saddled with his third and fourth fouls on back-to-back possessions with four minutes to play in the third quarter.

"It's hard to contain E.J. and Mike," said Berger. "They're good players and are going to score the basketball. We've just got to try to contain them a little better next time."

Jordan Ellis added 17 points and Tim Budavari-Jasper had 12 points for the Black Tornado, which did well to survive the early onslaught and trailed only 41-30 at halftime.

North Medford trimmed its deficit to seven points early in the third quarter, but baskets by Griff Boyd, E.J. Singler and Mitch Singler answered for South.

"I thought we survived it and made a nice run of our own to get back in it, but then we had another lapse," said Plankenhorn. "They made some good basketball plays and we just lapsed there and that really cost us."

Sophomore Matt Maurer gave the Tornado a big boost off the bench, totaling eight points and 12 rebounds despite playing in just the second and third quarters.

"The kid's a special kid and he competes like no other," said Plankenhorn. "If he could've just gotten more of those layins to go in (off seven offensive rebounds), that would've been big. He played a special night, though, and really kinda turned it around for us inside."

Boyd finished with 10 points and three assists for South, while Mitch Singler did a good job defensively against the explosive Ellis and Conner Egan added six rebounds and three steals.

For North, Michael Williams had nine points and Tylor Waldron pulled down five rebounds.

"We made a nice run to make it six, but we really didn't play our game to give ourselves a legit shot," said Plankenhorn. "That's the disappointing part, but at the same time I sure liked the way our kids competed all the way to the end and hung in there."

NORTH MEDFORD (67) — Berger 18, Ellis 17, Budavari-Jasper 12, Williams 9, Maurer 8, Pecktol 3, Waldron 0, McLemore 0, Gentry 0. Totals: 25-60 12-20 67.

SOUTH MEDFORD (73) — Harthun 28, E.J. Singler 26, Boyd 10, M. Singler 4, Egan 3, Haveman 2, Kezer 0, Walport 0, Phillips 0. Totals: 33-59 7-12 73.

North Medford 12 18 14 23 — 67

South Medford 25 16 19 13 — 73

3-point goals — North Medford 5-14 (Ellis 2, Berger 2, Budavari-Jasper 1), South Medford 0-4. Fouled out — Ellis.

JV score — South Medford 55, North Medford 51.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

South Medford’s Michael Harthun dives for a loose ball during its victory over North Medford on Tuesday. - Jamie Lusch